The Journey of a Bull

My family owns and operates a registered Angus cattle ranch in Oregon, with our main focus being selling bulls to other ranchers in the Pacific Northwest states.

Everything we do from the moment a calf is born revolves around helping him grow to be a big, strong, healthy bull.

All cattle ranchers keep detailed records of their herds, but as a registered cattle ranch, we have to keep exact data on our cattle. When a calf is born, his birthweight is measured and he is given his own ID number that is put on a tag (earring) and tattooed into both of his ears. His tag will have his ID number along with his dam (mother) and sire (father).

Our cows calve from the first week of January through the end of March, with most of the calves being born in January. Winters in Oregon can be harsh and cold, so we have to spend a lot of time with the cows to make sure every calf gets off to a good start and doesn’t get too cold. This usually means quite a few long nights at the ranch. It’s all worth it when a new calf is born, though.

For this post, let’s follow the life of bull calf “7531.”

Birth

7531 was born January 3, 2017 around 12:15 am. He weighed 90 pounds. Here he is moments after his birth:

His dam, 5111, was a two-year-old heifer and 7531 was her first calf. First time mommas need a little help sometimes and as I was there watching I noticed she was tired and wasn’t licking him enough to get the amniotic sac off his head, so I had to go remove it for her so the calf could breathe. If the sac doesn’t break and slide off a calf’s head, he will suffocate.

5111 quickly went to work taking care of her baby on the coldest week of the year, it was below zero for the entire first week of her calf’s life.

Here he is at just 4 days old, snuggled up in the straw we put out to provide calves a warm place to lay out of the snow.

5111 did a great job taking care of her calf and he never got sick or needed any additional help from us. The snow eventually melted and he enjoyed a beautiful spring and summer growing up on the ranch.

Weaning

In September, we wean the calves from their mothers. If left to their own schedule, this is something a cow would do naturally on her own. We wean all the calves at the same time so they can go as a group to get vaccinations and be penned. As future sale bulls, they will be judged by buyers on how well they weighed in competition with the rest of the bulls. Moving cattle through the ranch in groups helps with herd health.

7531 weighed 700 pounds at weaning. He got his vaccinations and was placed into bull pen 8 with 10 other bull calves. He ended up at exactly average for the bull calf weaning weights in 2017. We’d need to see him do very well from 205 days old through a year old if we was going to become a top bull in the sale.

At weaning, the bulls are also given their registered name. This is when we evaluate data on them and choose if they will get to continue on to be in our sale. 7531 was chosen as a sale bull and given the registered name: Kesslers Legacy 7531. A bull calf is often given the same name as their sire. 7531’s sire is Kesslers Legacy 5093, who was a bull born on our ranch in 2015 that became our ranch record high selling bull at $25,000 in 2016 to a ranch in Nebraska.

kesslers legacy
7531’s sire – Kesslers Legacy 5093

One Year Old

We had high expectations for our first sons of Legacy 5093 and 7531 met those expectations. Weighing in at 1344 at a year old, put him at 11% above the average weight of the bulls. He was one of our top bulls for average daily weight gain from weaning to a year old.

As sale time rolls around, the bulls are given a lot number, which becomes their ID number for sale day. 7531 was assigned LOT 79. In the bull sale catalog, every bull is listed along with his weights, carcass ultrasound data, pedigree, and EPDs – which are numbers cattlemen use to select bulls for various traits. A bull could be chosen to sire calves with small birth weights, calves who weigh a lot at a year, calves with superior marbling, or any combination of traits such as those. Customers sort through the data choosing what is important to their ranch and then visually sort the bulls on sale day before making the decision to purchase a bull.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 6.31.05 PM

7531 didn’t end up being a bull whose EPD’s are overly impressive, but he does have his strong points. He’s in the 95th percentile for calf birth weight, meaning his calves should be born big, which would not be ideal for someone who has small cows or wants to breed heifers. However, he’s in the 25th percentile for weaning weight and 10th percentile for yearling weight, so his calves should grow well from birth to weaning and improve even more from weaning to a year old, as he did. We would expect his calves to have nice carcass weights and big ribeyes, but average marbling. These numbers are something that many cattlemen spend far too many hours stressing over and sorting through as they make the big decision of adding a new bull to their ranch.

When the bulls are around a year of age, we have an ultrasound technician come out to take scans of the bulls to see how big their ribeyes (RE) are and how much marbling (IMF) they have. This is non invasive and is along the same lines of technology as getting a pregnancy ultrasound. Here’s a video of a bull getting a carcass ultrasound:

As we got closer to sale time, 7531 really started to shine in his pen. He became the heaviest bull in his pen, weighing 1374 on February 5, which would put him at just a couple days over 13 months old.

On February 20, 2018, 7531 sold in our bull sale. He will be going to a ranch in Oregon but his new owner lives in California.

Soon he will be turned out with their cows and his first calves will be born in early 2019. 7531’s male calves will be sent to a feedlot and provide a safe, healthy, nutritious beef product for dinner tables worldwide. His female offspring may be given the opportunity to stay within their herd and become the next generations of cows producing quality calves for that ranch. 7531 should enjoy multiple years of life on his new ranch as he helps shape the future of their herd.

A bull’s life makes an impact on the beef industry for many years, even after he is gone.

Is there anything in this post that you didn’t know about the life of an Angus bull? Is there anything you’re still curious to know more about? Leave a comment and let me know!

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